Not everyone will have a silent night this Christmas

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Christmas is a time of peace and joy for many. However, for those who are in an abusive relationship, this time of year can feel even more isolating, and it may be more difficult to admit to being unhappy or fearful when others around you are caught up in the festivities.

Sadly, during the Christmas period statistics show that each year, there is an increase in reports of domestic abuse; families spending more prolonged periods of time together poses an increased risk to victims.

Domestic abuse is more than just physical abuse and includes the following behaviour - psychological, verbal, emotional abuse, manipulation, threats, gaslighting, love bombing, financial abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, and harassment. Many victims feel that the abuse “isn’t that bad” because there may be no physical violence involved, but the effects of emotional abuse can be just as severe.

Are you experiencing domestic abuse or, do you think you could be? Do you know someone you think may be suffering from abuse or, you think you might become subjected to domestic abuse during this Christmas period?

Anyone can experience domestic abuse and it may not be obvious to people outside the immediate relationship. Often the perpetrator of abuse is the most charming, nicest person in the room. There are however some common (but often subtle) signs that you can be aware of when seeking to support family, friendship groups or colleagues.

· Are they ‘attached at the hip’ with their significant other who always invites themselves along to social events and meet ups?

· Are they constantly checking their phone/on the phone and receiving calls and messages from their partner?

· Have you noticed someone you know who seems different or ‘on edge’ around their partner?

· Has someone around you recently begun a new relationship that has moved extremely quickly and something feels off?

· Is a partner of someone you know showing signs of jealousy or possessiveness?

· Have you noticed their partner often puts them down, but disguises the comments as jokes?

· Have you noticed explosive, unpredictable behaviour from their partner? One minute they seem happy and the next they show signs of extreme rage or mood swings?

· Has someone you know recently got into a relationship and become a shell of their former self? Perhaps they have gone from being outgoing and full of confidence, to seeming on edge and withdrawn.

· Has someone around you hinted at possible abuse but you haven’t wanted to be intrusive?

If any of these statements ring alarm bells you may want to provide help and support but not know what to do for the best. It can be hard to know how to support someone experiencing domestic abuse; your first instinct may be to protect them, but this can be more dangerous for you and them. There are however, ways you can help:-

Tell them you’re worried – be direct whilst not being judgemental about their partner, instead try and make it more about them as a person eg: “I have noticed you seem a bit different, is everything ok?” They might not be ready to talk, and that is ok too.

Create a safe space - listen to them and do not blame them for staying with the partner and/or force them to leave. Allow them to speak with no judgement and be empathetic as to why they may stay.

Take them seriously – Listen and believe the victim, even if their partner outwardly seems like a really good person. Phrases such as “he seems so lovely though” aren’t helpful and it is important to trust what they are saying.

Remind them they are not alone – They may feel isolated and so it is important to let them know that you are there for them, that you care, and that support is available. Even if they aren’t making the effort with you or seem distant, continue to stay in touch and don’t allow them to be isolated. This is what the perpetrator wants.

Be patient – it may take months or even years for a person to leave an abusive relationship. Recognising the problem is an important first step.

Recognise if they are in serious danger – If you see that they are in serious danger of abuse or harm then you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24 hours a day and for free on 0808 2000 247.

Why do people stay?

Many friends and families’ of victims of domestic abuse find it difficult to understand why the person may stay with the abuser. You may not understand, but the most important thing is to ensure that you do not blame them, fall out with them and that you stay supportive throughout.

It takes a great deal of courage to leave someone who is abusive (emotionally and/or physically). Leaving is something that takes time and is a process. You shouldn’t force them to leave or apply pressure as this will only make it worse for them.

Some practical and psychological barriers to leaving include:-

· Safety - they may fear for their safety if they leave.

· Lack of self-confidence - they may think the abuse is their fault and have been conditioned to believe that they couldn’t find anything better or that they deserve the abuse.

· Denial - they convince themselves that the abuse isn’t that bad, whilst their abuser also gaslights them to think the same.

· Financial dependence - they are unable to support themselves financially without the abuser.

· Loyalty - shows loyalty to the abuser regardless of their actions.

· Hope - hopeful that things will improve or that they can change the abuser’s behaviour.

· Love - despite the abuse, they still love the abuser and believe that the abuser loves them.

· “It’s not all bad” - often the abuser isn’t always mean and will switch from highs to lows to cause confusion. They may stay because of the good times, even though it is mostly bad or when it’s bad it is “really bad” (abusive).

· Intimidation - the person may threaten to take the children or pets away.

· Scared what they will do - the abuser often presents themselves as a victim in society and may use threats of suicide, self-harm etc if the person leaves.

What help is available?

We at Awdry Law appreciate that not everyone will have a silent night this Christmas and that for many the celebratory period can lead to incidents of domestic abuse. We are here to help, support and advise.

If you are experiencing any form of domestic abuse or violence, and would benefit from advice surrounding the ending of the relationship, or obtaining injunctions, our family team offer free, initial consultations.

Other free support services available over the festive period;

- 24-hour National Domestic Violence helpline - 0808 2000 247

- If you are in immediate danger – 999

-Women’s Aid,

- Refuge

- FearFree Charity 

Jacky Hubbard

Family Law Practitioner

Contact a member of the team  

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